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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Another benefit of being tall and thin

By Dick Hirsch

When I was a boy I would have preferred to have been tall and thin. Wouldn’t everybody? I never discussed it with any of the other boys of my age and size who lived in the neighborhood, but my instincts now tell me that they probably felt just the same.

No luck. I was patiently anticipating a growth spurt that never arrived. At some stage I must have decided that, at least size wise, I was destined to be average. Rather than cursing heredity, isn’t it amazing how a person can adjust and live contentedly in his or her own body?

When I was in sixth grade, some of those girls were taller than some of us boys, a condition not likely to result in the creation of a status known then and now as happy campers. But we succeeded in catching up with most of them by the time we were old enough to drive. Soon it was off to college where my roommate for three years was 6 foot 5 and over a yard wide. We were a striking combination strolling around the campus, he being some seven inches taller, often angered by a recurring question: “How is the air up there?”

Why do I embark on this reverie related to the value of height and leanness? I was motivated by the news that an old acquaintance of mine, notable for his unique combination of height and skinniness, had suddenly cashed in big time in his specialized area, based primarily on his amazing physique.

Some readers might jump to the conclusion that the news is related to professional sports, where tall players are much in demand. But, no, it has nothing to do with basketball, which once was a game dominated by adroit ball handlers and skilled shooters and became, over the years, a game ruled by giants. Although comparisons are distasteful, I believe its fair to conclude that basketball players are the most remarkable of all professional athletes because of their combination of size, speed, strength, endurance, agility and dexterity. Let me know if I have left anything out.

The most remarkable aspect of my friend’s leap to fame is that he is noted for standing around like a statue. Oh, it looks like he is moving, but, well, you’ve heard of slow moving catchers who are described as having feet of lead, right? Well, my pal has always been shod at a more elite level: he has feet of bronze. While his slender build and his serious mien have brought him great fame he can’t run or jump, yet the experts have marked him as outstanding in his field and said he is worth $104 million. That puts him in the same category as NFL quarterbacks and pitchers who are consistent 20-game winners.

My friend is that fabulous sculpture by Alberto Giacometti known as Man Walking, which has been in the collection of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery since soon after it was cast in 1960. It was a gift from Seymour H. Knox, made during that historic period in the 1960s when Knox and his friend and colleague, Gallery Director Gordon M. Smith, were buying art at a dizzying pace. The two men lived long enough to see many of the choices they made categorized as contemporary masterpieces.

Walking Man is one of them. It was cast in an edition of six, one of which has been captivating visitors to the museum ever since it arrived, with its pencil thin body, its deliberative expression, and its feeling of movement.

Early in February the sculpture made news when the owner of one of the casts, the Dresdner bank of Germany, decided to sell at auction certain prized pieces, including Man Walking. The auction in London attracted wide attention in the art world since the piece is so well known. The resulting top price of $104.3 million from an anonymous bidder broke the world record for a single art work sold at auction. That was like money in the bank for the Albright-Knox, since the gallery owns the same piece.

I have marveled at it since I first saw it years ago and try to see it, studying it from various angles, each time I go to the gallery. I always wondered about Giacometti, and what he looked like. Was he tall and skinny? He died in 1966, but old photos clearly depict him as a man of average height and weight, about my size, who created a skinny six-footer whose emaciated appearance made him extremely valuable.


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